Lee Westfall has a strong, loving family. She has a home she loves and a loyal steed. She has a best friend—who might want to be something more.
She also has a secret.
Lee can sense gold in the world around her. Veins deep in the earth. Small nuggets in a stream. Even gold dust caught underneath a fingernail. She has kept her family safe and able to buy provisions, even through the harshest winters. But what would someone do to control a girl with that kind of power? A person might murder for it.
When everything Lee holds dear is ripped away, she flees west to California—where gold has just been discovered. Perhaps this will be the one place a magical girl can be herself. If she survives the journey.
The acclaimed Rae Carson begins a sweeping new trilogy set in Gold Rush-era America, about a young woman with a powerful and dangerous gift.
Before reading this book, I was largely ignorant to the California Gold Rush between 1848 to 1855. After reading Walk on Earth a Stranger, I may still be far from fluent in the history but Carson has written a wonderful story that gives us insight to what it might have been like, propelled by one heck of a sweeping story about what it means to be brave.
The story follows Leah Westfall, a girl who possesses the incredible gift of being able to sense gold. In such difficult times, such a gift can be a blessing but can also mean immense danger for Leah. Paired with the growing fever for gold, Leah’s powers and their significance in the story’s time period creates a fascinating narrative tinged with magical realism. Although her powers play a minute but important part in her journey, Walk on Earth a Stranger is more about Leah, her adventure, and the unexpected friends that she makes along the way.
When there’s gold to be had, you can’t trust anyone. Not a single soul.
Walk on Earth a Stranger may be historical fiction, but at its heart, it is an adventure – and it was a splendid one, at that. Not only was there stunning character development with Leah emerging changed after her journey, but the trek to California presented many dangers and complications. Carson’s exploration of these obstacles – from bandits to harsh terrain – gave its setting life and dimension. The pace may be slow, but Carson takes the time to flesh out every detail and tinder the senses. The story also briefly examines sexism and racism, underpinning small but significant details that were, unfortunately, faithful to its time period.
In a sense, Walk on Earth a Stranger is a very character-driven book. It took a long time to get invested into the writing, but once I was, I was hooked. Once I made that emotional connection with Leah and grew to care for her. I shared Leah’s fears, her joys, her pains, and her triumphs. By seizing control of her destiny and disguising herself as a man, Leah embarks on a journey that is not only a physical one, but one that is deeply personal and emotional. Leah’s growth as a brave and compassionate person is absolutely wonderful and fulfilling to behold.
It turns out that a girl with all the friends in the world is still lonely when she’s keeping secrets.
Underneath the book’s spirited adventure, what ultimately stole my heart was its fantastic characters and their unfaltering strength and determination. That when they finally reached the end of their journey, it may have come with so many sacrifices and loss, but it was a victory that was hard-won and deserved. The bonds made and strengthened felt all the more precious and stronger through their shared pain and tribulation. More so, Walk on Earth a Stranger shows that strength is not just being able to survive or being stoic; the story shows that real strength can be perseverance and compassion when the two are extremely difficult.
In a sea of complex stories, Walk on Earth a Stranger is a nugget of a book. Its story may be simple, but it possesses a rare sincerity that is helplessly likable and endearing. Even if you aren’t terribly fond of Westerns or interested in history (and I fall into both categories) Walk on Earth a Stranger is sure to be an unexpected and humble book; one about taking control of your destiny, venturing into great unknown, and finding family in the most of unlikely of places and people.
Book Name: Walk on Earth a Stranger
Book Series: The Gold Seer Trilogy
Author: Rae Carson
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
UPDATE 23/10: It was recently brought to my attention that Walk on Earth a Stranger has problematic representation of Native American people and history. Please read this extensive analysis of the chapters (contains spoilers), as well as this Tumblr post which details the book’s problematic elements. Thank you to Daisy and Glaiza for sharing these two links with me.
I listened to the audiobook and the narrator was amazing. I loved her narration to bits; she captured the accent and feel of the book so, so well.
- Have you read Walk on Earth a Stranger? Did you like it?
- For those who are familiar with its historical context, is it accurate? (Aside from a quick read of the Wikipedia page, I know barely anything!)
- Have you read the book’s sequel, Like a River Glorious?